So you’ve just graduated from college and you want to change the world. Good for you. The non-profit sector seems like a natural place for a justice-minded person such as yourself, and nonprofits are almost always hiring because the turnover rate is so high. But you may find the social justice industry to be… a little unjust. Here are a few tips and tricks for how to avoid being exploited by a nonprofit.
- Don’t work at one. Seriously. Working at a non-profit generally involves at least some level of exploitation. (When was the last time you saw a non-profit with a union?) If this doesn’t deter you, figure out what you’re willing to give up: Is it sleep? Weekends? Seeing your friends? Most non-profit workers do not work 9-5. Working nights and weekends is common. Paid overtime is not. Non-profits tend to make you feel like if you are not willing to work 24/7 then you are not “down for the cause.” That’s bullshit. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you’re not “down enough” because you are not willing to sacrifice your well-being for “the movement.” People who don’t take care of themselves burn out and often become jaded and bitter. You can’t sustain “the movement” if you don’t sustain yourself.
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
I’m at an interesting intersection for me to be at in my life. I am a twenty-something from the Southeast United States, having studied theology in Berkeley and now working in Marin. I am learning what it means to be a community member in a lot of different ways and how to manage being on-edge about what I believe, how I feel connected to community and to God, and how to face the big problems of this world.
I love people; well, atleast most of the time. I do my best to see past the things I assume about them, the hate I place onto them from my own issues, and the fear of my own lack of worth that I imagine they’d place in the way of us connecting. Some days I can successfully open my eyes to the real world, the one not made up by advertisements, flashing lights that highlight capitalistic value, and see the beautiful, nitty-gritty, the bruised yet smiling-hearted people. I get to open my eyes to humans; to real people. And if I’m lucky, on those days I can even get to a place where I can shut the socially and selfishly trained voice that likes to dominate my thoughts, my time, and my money and I can hear the voices of the people that need, not out of entitlement or anger or hate-people who need because we live in a world that created needs and refuses to meet those needs. On the days when I can arise, and sink to the lows we as society have left people to rise from, I realize that people really are hungry, heartbroken, hurt, hopeless, and homeless—right here. That I am forgetting humanity when I walk past and feel nothing; when I pass judgment on everyone who has more money than me and more debt than me.
We’re all hidden really. We’re hidden behind fears. Fear of a million and one things like starving, losing, breaking, being rejected, being sick and no one to care for us, sleeping in the rain or cold, not having enough gas to get to work, fearful of the ones who say they love us but spit words of hate and inadequacy towards us when we mess up. Fear that we are the ones holding people back from meeting their needs, of ignoring their needs, of being numb to reality.
I think the only thing that can allow us to arise, to see, to hear, and to awake from our location and state of social numbness on either side of the socio-economic spectrum is seeking justice. Well, easy huh? A life focused on loving wholeness, offering forgiveness and receiving it graciously, believing in hope and offering it to everyone, honestly asking for help and sharing, not hoarding our wealth of resources…that’s seeking justice.
To me, the way to begin this life of seeking justice is to serve. To break out of the easy stuff, to break out of the walls that have kept us safe and easily satisfied, to rub clean our eyes and shake the cobwebs of comfort from our brains—only waking to love and getting a little messy can transform us into people who practice “Ubuntu” which means, “to be fully human, to live a life of compassion and empathy, remaining mindful of the tendons that connect us to everything. I argue that one’s true self cannot be realized as an individual. One cannot reach his fullest potential as an autonomous being. The true self is reached only when one awakens to their interconnectedness with other beings and interdependence on the human collective and the natural world. When this reality dwells in the consciousness of the individual, a fully functioning, flourishing life is then possible—for all.”(Christopher Sofolo from Sojourners, www.sojo.net, 2012)
For me, service, volunteering, community organizing, and over-all civic engagement is motivated by my “in the process” understanding of Love, God, and what it means to be created. I trust that Jesus was a perfect example for us to live out a life that seeks justice. So I’m moved, woo-ed, motivated, and a lot of the time pushed and prodded to do more of the right things. I want an active faith based in a religion that is real and profound enough to deeply impact and engage our complicated world. A religion made up of compassionate, change-inciting, justice-bringing, lovingly honest people who are growing and seeking encounters with God.
Serving the community means more than removing weeds, donating money, serving in a food pantry, or tutoring afterschool. It does take the community to do these things and sacrifice time and energy but it is more. It means getting up-close and human with ourselves, our over-indulgence, our fallibility, and our wounds. It means a chance to transform not only the brokenness of the world, but of ourselves.
I really try to love people and to love to serve but I kinda suck at it most days. So here we go, every little step and breath of the way towards Ubuntu-towards wholeness, towards humanity, towards God and towards each other. Let’s serve and learn to love in a profoundly active and life-altering way. I think that it’s true that whenever two or more are gathered, Love is there, but I think we can also start learning to cultivate at our core the values of Love on our own to love others as ourselves. Together we can do this. Only together can we embody and be the Body and love.